50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14 and 75% by age 24. Imagine an education system where students would have access to a therapist, psychological issues would be topics that are openly discussed and mental health "first aid" would be as widely recognized as CPR. Hannah, a participant in a Youth Solutions signature Jobs for Michigan's Graduates program at Orchard View Adult Education, spoke up about her desire for change in Michigan's schools in a recent letter she penned to Michael F. Rice, Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Hannah experienced oppression, anxiety and trauma in her childhood but instead of receiving help, she was labeled lazy when she withdrew from activities. "Instead of helping me, they would talk about me," said Hannah. And when you are labeled, you start to believe what you are being told by others, especially when those people who created some of the labels are youth leaders that were intended to guide your learning. "I always thought I was abnormal but I didn't know until we started realizing that our family life wasn't good. I got very depressed and suffered with anxiety in my pre-teen years but I wasn't diagnosed until I was 19," said Hannah. If more people within the school systems were equipped with the tools to identify, understand and respond to mental health issues, could we save lives that are taken by youth suicide? Would we help our youth create success earlier? These are positive outcomes that Hannah believes are worth exploring.
Hannah has a sign behind her desk that reads "Life's tough but so are you." It's a mantra that reinforces all of the progress that she has made in her journey toward wellness. Hannah said that she experienced panic attacks that were often triggered by tests at school. These feelings would rush in and made school unbearable for her at times. But after seeking therapy for her mental health issues, Hannah now has learned techniques that help her cope with the stress and physical symptoms that accompany her panic attacks.
Often brushed off as "adolescent moodiness", and even though sometimes that may legitimately be the culprit, it is not always the case. Despite what many believe, mental illness is common in teenagers and is on the rise. Various factors can cause or contribute to the development of mental illness, and while it may be different for each person, suffering from a mental health disorder can have a significant impact on one’s life and overall wellbeing. Having a mental illness often makes even the most routine things you do in life a challenge. All areas of your life have the potential to be affected by mental illness: school, work and socializing with other people.
Unfortunately, not all youth have access to the therapy that has proven to be so beneficial to Hannah. Even though so many young people struggle with mental illness, according to the Polaris Teen Center, less than 50% of them receive treatment for their condition. In her letter to the Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction, Hannah encouraged Mr. Rice to introduce an informative mental health class in every school. She believes this type of understanding would help students feel more comfortable. Because we want our youth to view education as an opportunity and our schools to be safe places for all students, removing the stigma of asking for help or encouraging peers to recognize when a friend needs assistance, our educators and schools can be a pivotal connection between our youth, education and the improvement of mental heath.
Hannah is grateful for the treatment she has received. She always knew that she wanted to help others. Because of her personal experience, getting the help that she needed to be successful, Hannah has become very interested in psychology. After she completes her GED, Hannah wants to help people who are struggling and may pursue a career in Family & Relationship Counseling or Addiction Counseling. "Because I've gone through it, I can be compassionate with those who need help," said Hannah.
It really does take a network of support. Not only does Hannah credit her mother for inspiring her, she also mentioned the positive people within Youth Solutions that have been invested in her success. "I go to school through Orchard View (Adult Education) and Danielle is awesome. My career coach, Amanda is great too. She had a different personality than me. She saw I was a bit shy and nervous. I was going through a lot of changes. She approached me about the JMG program and it's been incredible. I have become more outgoing and have found a new passion for public speaking!"
Hannah will be putting her public speaking skills into action as she participates in our "Coffee with a Purpose" panel discussion that will address mental health from a youth perspective. Other youth panelists include Amari McKinney, Christian Dunn and Chelsea Smith. You can attend the live session on May 27 at 9AM - 10AM EDT by registering here. If you are interested in learning more about Youth Solutions, our programs or how you can get involved please visit our website at: www.ouryouthsolutions.org.
A PDF version of this article is available for download, here.